Teaching on a Shoestring: Information Literacy in Further Education

Breaking news: crime writer Ralph Von Smugly found murdered at Keighly Campus, Leeds City College

Libraries within the Further Education (FE) sector have a wide ranging, and often changing role, both within their wider organisations and the lives of their users. 

There are many challenges to teaching information literacy skills in a Further Education context. These include:

  • Significant changes within Further Education organisations
  • An expectation of high-quality learning provision through the use of technology
  • Diverse range of students with limited contact time

I want to share a resource that my team, at Keighley Campus library, have developed that illustrates one way some of these challenges can be overcome: The Library Murder Mystery!

Significant changes within Further Education organisations

One of the biggest challenges in the seven years I worked in FE was managing to provide a functioning service during significant changes within the wider organisation. According to the TES there were at least 69 mergers concerning English colleges between 1997 and 2009; in other parts of the United Kingdom mergers have resulted in country-wide ‘super colleges’, such as GrwpLlandrilloMenai in Wales. My college, Leeds City College, is made up of four colleges, three of whom merged in 2009; themselves made up of colleges that had previously been separate entities, in widely diverse towns. 

So my team, the Keighley Campus library, had seen a lot of changes, restructures, and tense times. 

An expectation of high-quality learning provision through the use of technology

We also had seen a reduction in resources within the library, and higher expectations amongst our users, especially concerning the use of technology within our services. 

Further changes within FE concern the way that we teach. It is expected now that we use a wide range of technologies and teaching styles; no more ‘chalk and talk’ and printed out handouts! Within the library we wanted to fully explore what new learning technologies could do for our teaching sessions. 

Diverse range of students with limited contact time

Within FE differentiation is a huge task; as well as students are on differing levels academically there may be mature students coming to the classroom again after many years break, students with learning difficulties or disabilities they may or may not have disclosed, or students with other issues outside of the immediate learning environment that affect their learning. 

As librarians delivering Information Literacy skills sessions, covering everything from referencing and research skills to e-safety, we may only ever see students for an hour’s lesson in their entire time at college. The phrase “Information Literacy” packs a wide range of skills into an all-encompassing appellation. It can be a pretty hard subject therefore to teach, especially when a student on a vocational course may not see the point in learning how to do something they have no interest in, and cannot see applying to their daily lives. 

The Library Murder Mystery

The initial idea came from a blog on the Scottish Book Trust about a school library that runs a series of taught lessons based on solving a murder mystery, using a website that guides students through working in different parts of the library. 

Interactive resource

I adapted this idea to make an interactive resource based on the idea of a ‘Cluedo’ map of the college, with each room containing an activity involving an area of Information Literacy. I was very lucky in having a work colleague who was also a freelance film editor. Collaboratively we used Adobe Captivate to create a resource to use in classes or remotely, that was opened through the college’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). 

The set-up was that a crime-writing awards ceremony had taken place at Keighley Campus, and that the winner of the award had later been found murdered in the library. 

The theme continued as the students had to use puzzles where the answers could be found using library resources, such as the journals list on the intranet and the Library Catalogue, to find the weapon, location of the murder, and the time the murder took place. The different activities were guided by a voice over and written instructions.

On reflection, the resource did try and do too much at once, with me trying to squeeze in every type of resource we had access to for the users to learn about. If I could do it all again I would have more focussed ‘themed’ quizzes in which the users could choose to work through one resource such as referencing, online journals, or the Library Catalogue. 

Involvement of the whole team

The most valuable part of the project, though, was the involvement of the whole team. At the end of the puzzles, users of the resource were presented with six short videos, with transcripts,  of ‘suspects’ stated where they were and who they were with at the time of the murder-some which corroborated others. Users then used the clues found within the quizzes to deduce who the murderer was. The ‘suspects’ were of course members of the library team-with cunning aliases to mask their identities. 

The team loved the opportunity to get creative with their characters, bringing in props and homemade costumes. They were all really enthusiastic about the whole project and made several helpful suggestions. One team member had the genius idea of starting the resource with a film clip of a local news report of the murder, which we then did, with other members of staff co-opted in to play the murder victim and crime scene investigators within the clip. 

I felt that doing this together, involving all members of the library team, made us as a library feel proud of the resource. The library team had great fun inviting up their friends in other departments within the wider organisation to look at their work and this led to further promotion, not only of the library as a provider of information literacy materials, but of the library team in general. It showed that we were a team; we relied on and supported each other, and had a shared project with a clear goal. 

I would strongly advocate for the involvement of all parts of your library’s staff in creating learning resources. Not only did this make the project worthwhile in terms of staff engagement with the library’s mission, it also massively reduced the costs that would have otherwise have incurred. Libraries often have staff with an impressive range of skills sets and experiences. By learning about each other, and working creatively as a team, libraries can create dynamic teaching resources that hold student’s interests whilst not taking up large amounts of space on tiny budgets. 

I will be expanding on my work with this resource, and why I believe in full-team working in FE libraries at the Librarians as Teachers Conference in Birmingham on the 10 June. If you yourself have any innovative practices you have used in creating resources on a shoestring, or working creatively as a team, please let us know in the comments below. 

Librarians as Teachers Conference

Wednesday, 10 June 2015 - 10:00am to 4:00pm

CILIP West Midlands are hosting this one-day conference in partnership with the ARLG West Midlands Committee and sponsored by the CILIPInformation Literacy Group.


Image credits: Jess Haigh and John Maskrey


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